New York Giants linebacker Blake Martinez (54) speaks with the...

New York Giants linebacker Blake Martinez (54) speaks with the media after practice during training camp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center in East Rutherford, NJ, on Tuesday, Aug 3, 2021. Credit: Brad Penner

TUCSON, Ariz. — Blake Martinez was excited when he learned the Giants were going to be spending a week in Tucson, the town where he grew up. He was a little less thrilled that the practices would be held at the University of Arizona.

This, after all, was the place he always dreamed he would attend and play for. But coming out of high school, the Wildcats didn’t even recruit him.

"I have my bittersweet moments here," he said. "They didn’t want me to play here, so I went to Stanford and became smart."

It would have been triumphant, then, had Martinez arrived and practiced as an NFL player on the field where he was told he was unqualified to practice as a collegian. But the fact of the matter is that Martinez still can’t play at Arizona.

He tore his ACL in Week 3 of the season and is only now recovering to the point where he can walk with a light brace on his left leg and travel with the Giants. Last week in Miami he attended his first game since his injury and he will be with the team this Sunday in Los Angeles against the Chargers.

"I’m feeling good," he said. "Just kind of working out every day, trying to stay consistent, working with the training staff and strength staff, making sure I make improvements. Keep working through it."

He won’t be back on any field this season, but he is trying to return to his role as a leader of the Giants. He is a two-time captain, after all.

Normally he works on his rehab out of sight of the rest of the team, but this week he has been right there among them, strolling the sideline at practice, going to team-bonding meals with them (including one at his father’s cousin’s pizza restaurant in town), and attending a University of Arizona men’s basketball game with the guys.

"I think it’s slowly grown more and more over the past couple of weeks where I’ve been able to be reincorporated with the group, whether it’s lifting, meetings and all these types of things," Martinez said of his return to a leadership role. "Obviously, here I’m the tour guide going to dinners and stuff like that, so it’s been fun."

It would have been more fun to play, obviously. And play at Arizona, either as a Wildcat or a Giant.

Neither happened, though.

"It’s definitely a tough moment, but for me I’ve always been a person that just loves the challenge," he said. "When this happens, obviously it sucks to happen, but it’s something I can put on my bucket list of something I worked through and came back from and conquered."

And maybe even make him smarter.

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